The Tree Of Life (2011)—“Grandmother”
AVC: Going back to that notion that a film performance is what the editor has decided to keep, you’re not onscreen for very much of The Tree Of Life, but you must’ve shot more than what ended up in the final cut.
FS: I went out to stay with them all in a place called Smithville, in Texas. It’s an amazing town with a big huge water tank—one of those gorgeous, old American Midwest water tanks right as you enter the town, with “Smithville” written on it. And it’s the first town I ever went to where I saw literally two cowboys walking down the street. And I thought, “My God, I could be in 1870 here.”
And Terry Malick is just the most delightful person you could meet. He had come to BAM in Brooklyn—what was I performing? I think I was doing Happy Days, and he came to see Happy Days, and we had lunch. He doesn’t often come to New York, he said, and we had a lovely lunch. So I felt that I knew him by the time I went down to work with him, and he’d written various things, and he asked me to write various things, and then he would film it in a million different locations. He’d film the same scene in the sitting room, in the street, down the road. He’d say, “Where would you like to film it now?” And I’d think, “What?” He’s looking for the music of the scene, isn’t he? He’s not looking for the scene of the scene or the plot of the scene.
So I filmed a lot, and at one point, about a year later, Sara [Green], the producer, said to me, “You know, your voiceover is very much the leading voice of the film.” By the time the film came out, I was almost out of it. And that tells you everything about process. [Malick] takes a world and then he chips away at it bit by bit by bit by bit. So you have no idea whether any of it is left. But I didn’t mind at all because to be even around him—you couldn’t write those scenes and do them in one go. You have to find a process by which to find them. And he did that.
But you’re dead right: I did an enormous amount of filming, and very little of it [Laughs.] was left, but I’m trying not to take it as a criticism.